DON’T MESS WITH MOTHER NATURE
Mother Nature — such a lovely appellation. It evokes images of a benevolent, nurturing caretaker. One who spends hours over a stove preparing home made chicken soup to cure all your ills, who protects you from all danger, physical or emotional, and all monsters, real or imaginary. One who would never let you down.
Don’t you believe it. Mother Nature can morph into a sneaky, evil, conniving witch in an instant. Get sucked into the goody-goody myth perpetuated by her public relations staff and let your guard down for just a moment, and she’ll turn on you mercilessly.
I know because it happened to me yesterday.
I had a 1:00 PM doctor’s appointment at a clinic, a half-hour drive from my home. The weatherman predicted snow to begin from early to mid-afternoon. Should I cancel? Nah. I’d be back home before any significant accumulation. It was early December, after all. Not even officially winter yet. I got in my car around 12:15 and briefly wondered if I should go back in the house and grab a pair of boots, just in case. Again, nah. The snow hadn’t started yet, and I’d be back in less than two hours.
The first flakes began falling as I pulled into the clinic's parking garage. Hmmm... They were coming at a pretty fast clip. I was getting nervous. I parked and called my doctor’s office on my cell phone. “I’m here,” I told the secretary; “but I think I’m just going to turn around and go home. I’m worried about the snow.” “Don’t do that,” she said. “He’s ready for you, and it will take only a few minutes.”
She did not lie. In twenty minutes I was out of there — and into a huge mess; because during those twenty minutes, a mass exodus of the clinic had begun. It took half an hour to exit the garage and maneuver the fifty-yard driveway to the street, due to massive gridlock. In another hour I traveled a mile and a half to Route 95, a major highway I should have reached in less than five minutes. I merged into one of the four lanes that were creeping along at under five miles an hour beneath an overhead lighted sign flashing the warning, “WINTER ADVISORY, REDUCE SPEED.” Someone in the Highway Department was either completely out of touch with reality or had a cruel sense of humor.
I took several deep breaths and resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be seeing home any time soon. I turned on the radio and tried to relax. It worked. Until I glanced at my gas gauge and saw that I had less than a quarter of a tank left. Well, at the rate of speed I was traveling, I couldn’t be guzzling much fuel.
My next goal was to reach another major artery, Route 93, about eight miles away. I got there two hours later and breathed a sigh of relief. I was sure conditions on 93 would be much better.
They were worse — and went downhill with every agonizingly slow mile as a new problem developed. My windshield iced up, despite the blast of heat from my defroster. The wipers, also coated in ice, were completely ineffective. I had zero visibility. I cautiously pulled over to the side of the highway to scrape my windshield and wipers. I wasn’t alone. Several other drivers had stopped to do the same thing. By the time I got back into the car, a new coat of ice had formed, and I could see nothing as I eased back onto the highway seriously believing I would die at any moment. Either I was going to smash into a car I couldn’t see, or another visually-impaired driver was going to skid into mine. I was terrified and my gas gauge needle was now hovering close to the 'Empty' mark.
I was out of options. I had to leave the highway at the next exit ramp. At least I hoped it was an exit ramp. I couldn’t really tell.
Off the highway, conditions were even worse. The street was unplowed, and without taillights of other cars to guide me and my windshield still iced, I wasn’t at all sure I was even still on a road.
They say there are no atheists in fox holes; and I was certain there were also none on the highways and byways that night. I do know that God eventually guided me to a gas station. There was no way I could have reached it on my own. But once there, He deserted me. In His defense, I’m sure He was very busy answering emergency calls for help from thousands of other panicked motorists; but He could have stuck by me a few more seconds to be sure I could open the door to my gas tank. He didn’t, and I couldn’t. It was frozen solid under a sheet of ice. I chipped and scraped and cursed. Hey, God had left, so He wouldn’t know. I finally gave up and plowed knee deep through the snow (no boots, remember?) to the gas station’s convenience store to buy some de-icer. I temporarily forgot how terrified I had been trying to drive since trying to walk evoked other fears — I was still recovering from recent knee surgery after I broke my patella in a fall, and I was petrified of falling again. The young clerk took pity on me and came out to help. He also chipped and scraped. And scratched, I’m sure; but at that point, I didn’t care. Finally, he pried the gas tank door open. Hallelujah! I was able to fill the tank.
I cautiously rejoined the creeping traffic, but for only thirty yards or so before my windshield and wipers iced up again. I pulled into a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot and actually cried. I knew I would never make it another fifteen miles to my home. Though I’ve always claimed I’d rather die than impose on anyone, when death became a distinct probability instead of a hypothetical concept, I phoned my friend Mike who lived less than a mile away. He was not surprised at my predicament. His wife had just arrived home after twenty miles — and six hours! — of similar highway horror. He told me to sit tight, and he would come to rescue me. He eventually arrived, and we set out for his house. “Am I on the road?” he kept asking me. “I can’t see the road!” Neither could I. Miraculously, we made it without damage to life or limb, or Mike’s car.
The next day the streets were plowed down to the pavement, and the sun shone brightly. Mother Nature was on her best behavior again. But I don’t trust her for a second. I’m not leaving home again until May.
I hope I don’t run out of milk — or, more important, Scotch.
Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.